Introduction

How long do you want to keep your car? Many flip their cars every three years, leasing a different car each time. Others buy a car with the idea of getting at least ten years out of a new car. And then there are those who are driving rusted out, sputtering 1988 Jeep Cherokees and the like who take great pride in nursing and nurturing their heaps down the road each year with no end in sight.

Here at AOL Autos, we have come to learn from our colleagues who track the clicks and page-views of our stories that those spotlighting vehicles that have 300,000, 500,000 or even one million miles on the odometer are very popular. It is possible to achieve this longevity. The same way good genes keep humans living long lives, the quality of your car engine is the key to longevity. But, also just as with humans, diligent care is also key to getting your vehicle to last, and last, and last.

Recently, we saw a story on AOL's Patch.com community news network regarding a 2002 Toyota Tacoma pickup that went 396,000 miles before it needed an engine replacement.

In the story the writer stated that he bought the "Lifetime Oil Change" option when he bought the truck new at the dealer. The story says he practiced minimal maintenance; that being getting just his free oil changes and a few "tune ups" over the life of the vehicle.

He does not give details of his maintenance practices other than "I was pretty good at getting the truck in for its oil change on time." I assume that "on time" meant that he got it in according to the normal service schedule, which according to Toyota is every 7500 miles and for the severe schedule; every 5000 miles, the suggested viscosity oil Toyota says to use is 5W30 non-synthetic.

I'm also going to assume that the Tacoma owner had spark-plug replacements, tires and brakes replaced. It is also likely that other bits and parts were replaced during tune-ups. But, still, darn near 400,000 miles on the same pickup, which presumably gets a lot of hard wear from being a work truck, is impressive.

That owner was also dithering over whether to drop a new or rebuilt engine into his truck. Here are some tips for perhaps reaching the 300,000 mile mark with a vehicle, and some advice on whether to buy a rebuilt engine when the original gives up.

1. Aggressive Oil Change Practices

For every complete revolution the crankshaft makes, a piston travels up and down one time. We will call this a stroke. At 3800 RPM (Rotations Per Minute) and roughly 65MPH, each piston in a V8 engine strokes 475 times per minute or approximately 8 times per second! The pistons and cylinders are made of metal (subject to friction) and the average combustion chamber temperature is 1,000 + degrees at any given time. Would you say that these are intense conditions? The environmental conditions that the oil must deal with are friction, intense heat, and corrosive contaminants.

In short, the demands made on the oil are very "draining" (no pun intended). If left in the engine too long, the oil eventually loses its ability to lubricate, clean, inhibit rust and scale buildup, resist chemical contamination, absorb heat, resist vaporization and flow freely. This phenomenon is called "viscosity breakdown." Each function is extremely important to the performance and life of the engine. Changing the oil according to the factory service schedule is what I call "cheap insurance," with an extremely high return as evidenced by our friend with the Toyota Tacoma.

2. Aggressive fluid maintenance

In addition to engine oil, there are other fluids that need regular care if you want to realize maximum vehicle longevity.

Cooling system: The cooling system is responsible for keeping the engine operation temps at factory specs. Engine coolant, like oil, is formulated to do multiple things. For instance; absorb heat and carry it to the radiator where it is released, provide heat inside the vehicle when needed, inhibit rust and scale buildup and lubricate the water pump & resist freezing. If left in the cooling system too long, engine breakdown and/or failure becomes evident.

Transmission and drivetrain fluids: Transmissions, differentials, transfer cases, viscous couplers all rely on fluids or lubricants to operate properly. Ignore them and over time units break down and fail. Carmakers have set up a regular maintenance schedule for fluid drain intervals and filter replacement where applicable. Follow them. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive systems can use very specific fluid specifications along with drain service schedules, to realize maximum trouble-free mileage, follow the maintenance schedule to the tee.

Brake & steering fluids: Have the brake and steering fluid checked every time you have an oil change. If any fluid has to be added, find out why and repair it, as low fluid levels indicate leakage.

3. Regular Undercarriage Inspections

Whenever you go in for an oil change have the undercarriage checked for worn suspension and/or steering parts, brake systems, brake and fuel lines, tire wear, fluid leakage.

Worn steering and/or suspension parts: Worn parts translate into poor cornering and handling and in extreme cases, loss of vehicle control, as well as premature tire replacement. Whenever worn parts are noticed, they should be replaced, as leaving them on the vehicle can result in additional wear to related parts.

Braking systems: Brakes should be checked every time the vehicle goes up on a lift. By being proactive and staying on top of brake system condition, you circumvent major brake failure in the form of drum and/or rotor replacement, caliper replacement and any other related brake system failures.

Brake and fuel lines: Brake and fuel lines are made of steel and thus are subject to rust and corrosion. Stay on top of rusty lines and replace or repair as necessary as a fuel line leak in the presence of an ignition source such as a hot exhaust pipe can result in a fire, or a burst brake line can result in loss of vehicle control due to complete loss of brakes.

Tire wear: Tire wear can tell a trained eye if the vehicle needs an alignment or steering or suspension component replacement. If when the vehicle goes on a lift, you have the tire wear checked, you can circumvent premature tire replacement.

Fluid leakage: Tend to any and all fluid leakages immediately because when fluids are allowed to run dry, component damage occurs.

4. Performance systems and the "Check Engine" light

In order to realize maximum engine and electronic engine management system longevity, tend to all lit check engine lights and regularly scheduled maintenance tune ups according to factory recommendations. If a malfunctioning performance system is left unchecked, poor fuel mileage, inefficient combustion, out of control tailpipe emissions, and internal engine damage can occur.

Maladjusted fuel delivery results in excessive fuel either spilling down into the crankcase where it dilutes the oil and accelerates internal wear, or the unburned gas finding it's way into the catalytic converter and forming a rock of carbon clogging the cat and shutting down engine performance. Additionally, when spark plugs, wires and malfunctioning ignition components are left alone, they tend to result in more inefficient combustion, poor fuel mileage and poor performance, not to mention the fact that in states where emissions checks are part of the state inspection, the vehicle will fail inspection and cannot be driven until it is fixed.

5. Exterior & interior care

Years ago, the national Car Care Council released a study where they followed national car auction pricing of the vehicles that were sold. One of the findings: If two vehicles identical in year, make, model, mileage and equipment went through the auction, the vehicle that was detailed, clean and cared for would bring half again as much as the dirty, unkempt vehicle. So just for economic reasons it makes sense to keep your vehicle clean.

Then, there's the value of keeping your vehicle clean for the long haul in that the, paint, body, carpets and upholstery will last longer without additional cost. If you live in a salt belt state (a state where salt and other road clearing chemicals are used to keep roads clean during the winter months) and intend to keep your vehicle for a long time, consider having a professional rust protection done to the vehicle to keep rust and corrosion down. This is best done at detail shop, not buying the quickie rust-proofing sold by the dealer when you buy the car. Finally, if rust and corrosion has set in on your vehicle, have it taken care of immediately to avert acceleration of the condition.

6. Should you spend money fixing a 300K mile vehicle?

If you are fortunate to get 300K miles out of your chariot, and are faced with major repairs to keep it going ... is it worth it? Here are three rules of thumb to follow when faced with such a decision:

Rule number one: When making a decision on a major auto repair, keep your emotions in check. Remember, it's a car, not the family dog, your kid, or spouse. Need a new transmission? Fix it, but only if the rest of the vehicle is in good mechanical condition. If the body is rusting and the frame is weak, retire the old steed.

Rule number two: Always try to make an informed decision based on the facts about the vehicle in question. Have a complete bumper to bumper evaluation done on the vehicle before spending money on it.

Rule number three: Explore and analyze all of your options before making a decision to spend significant money on a major automotive repair. Everyone's situation is different. It depends on your needs and resources, as well as the condition of the vehicle and what it is used for.

'Til next time ... Keep Rollin'